Memoirs of a conference: Philanthropy is? is not? may be?
Philanthropy in simple terms is defined as committing private resources for public gain. The practice is transforming both globally, and specifically in Africa following dwindling of external donations and increasing focus on sustainability of civil society, as well as a drive towards innovation of African solutions for African problems with African resources. The word philanthropy is not native on the continent, but the practice is, and transformation includes application of the term in the context. What are the trends? How is the regulatory environment framed to transform the practice? What are the opportunities for growing African philanthropy? Where is diversity and inclusion on this journey? These and other questions formed the central conversations at the 6th East African Philanthropy Conference that took place in Arusha on the 25th and 26th September 2019. While the conversations were rich and informative, certain terms stood out for me as they may or may not refer to philanthropy. This write up reflects my thoughts, opinions and questions around 3 sets of terms that arose during the conference.
Grantmaking and Philanthropy: We use these words interchangeably. Grantmaking is a process of awarding funds to a nonprofit or individual to conduct charitable activities. It is true that grants are made by philanthropists, but they are also made by governments or government agencies and awarded to low resourced governments or civil society as development aid. Philanthropy is more than donating large sums of money. Small donations for public good are philanthropic, as are non-monetary or in-kind donations which may be items, skills, services or time. Envision a sports instructor who schedules time to instruct patients at a mental health hospital as contribution to their wellbeing, or a group of people who put money together to send underprivileged children in their community to school, or medical persons who organize medical camps to provide free services – this is all philanthropy. In Africa, a lot of the philanthropy is informal and undocumented.
Why, then, are the two words used interchangeably? I think that all financial grants, regardless of their origin may be referred to as philanthropic by the larger populace. Secondly, most of the presentations about philanthropy are focused on financial gifts – grants. The research that is usually presented reflects geographical disparities in financial giving, as well as related trends. The description of this giving is presented in monetary units, and not otherwise. The informal philanthropy in our context and disregard of in-kind gifts fuels the rhetoric that Africans are not givers. This is one reason why we must present an alternative story – the true story, our story. In sum, not all grant making is philanthropy, and not all philanthropy is grant making.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Socially responsible corporates (SRCs): CSR is intentional diversion of profits from businesses to social causes or the responsibility of businesses to facilitate communities to be better. When focused on the interests of communities, and done ethically, CSR is philanthropic. Those business owners that practice this kind of philanthropy are said to be socially responsible corporates (SRCs). In his speech on Impact investment in East Africa, Arif Neky, the Coordinator of the SDG Partnership Platform emphasized that without SRCs, CSR is not philanthropy. Unfortunately, there are business owners who refer to their acts of CSR as philanthropy, yet they earn profit from such acts. Their reasons for giving are purely selfish and focused on personal gain. In fact, this was confirmed by an investment consultant who we met at a Rotary club in Arusha, where we went to discuss African Philanthropy and how we can shape the narratives. This young Rotarian preferred to use the term “giving or givers” instead of “philanthropy or philanthropists” because in his line of work, he has met with people who abuse the meaning of the latter. For me, questions remain – is it intentional abuse of the term or is it just ignorance? Who holds such businesses accountable? Where is the guidance on CSR and SRCs that business owners can easily digest and apply? Then, what is the picture in my Uganda?
Community Foundations (CFs) and Community Foundation Support Organizations (CFSOs): For a long time, I knew that cooperatives were the strongest force for community organizing and grassroot development. The only time I had interfaced with the words “CFs and CFSOs” was when I was viewing a call for proposals and evaluating a fit for CivSource. At the conference, SGS consulting, a South African Company which is focused on deepening community philanthropy expounded the role of community foundations and I realized that cooperatives may be a strong force for development, but community foundations are another to reckon with.
Community Foundations are institutions owned by communities. They leverage assets and resources of grassroot communities for their own development and aspirations. The assets and resources may be financial, non-financial, tangible and intangible. The Director of SGS opined that CFs may replace NGOs because of their design (explored, funded and owned by the community). They generally have 3 attributes – hold and grow assets; are multi – themed; and make grants. Cooperatives in Uganda have the first two attributes and they have the potential to become community foundations if supported to make grants. Unfortunately, the current legal environment may be limiting. The microfinance and money lenders’ act indicates that if a cooperative accumulates 500 million (approx. 135,000 USD), it falls under the supervision of the Bank of Uganda. The Central Bank needs all the CVs of the board members who are required to have training or experience in banking or microfinance. The reasons for such caveats may be valid but generally conversations on an enabling regulatory environment for philanthropy have not been explored. Community Foundation Support Organizations (CFSOs) are Institutions that facilitate the growth of CFs, and would have a role in igniting such discussions. In Uganda, the existence of CFSOs and CFs, as well as their functionality is an area for investigation and virgin ground for new players – I think.
The EAPN conference may have presented new knowledge, questions and challenges but it also convened opportunity in one place – a university program that is focused on philanthropy in South African, Africans serving on regional and global platforms, technical expertise on community philanthropy, and philanthropists. The platform, in my view as a first-time participant, paints a story of hope – a story of Africa rising.
I am Jacqueline Nassimbwa